Kansas City Councilwoman Heather Hall spoke against several of the council’s priorities while on a trip to meet with legislators in Jefferson City last week. (Screenshot: heatherhall.org)
As Kansas City officials were working to block a legislative effort to repeal the city’s residency requirement for police officers, the council’s lone conservative member had other ideas.
Councilwoman Heather Hall traveled to Jefferson City last week with the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce, where she met with lawmakers over dinner and meetings at the Capitol.
In discussions with lawmakers, she expressed support for repealing the residency requirement and opposition to local control of the city’s police department. She also spoke against easing a requirement that Kansas City get voters’ approval every five years for its 1% earnings tax, its largest single revenue source.
All three positions are in conflict with the City Council’s stated positions.
Hall, who is married to a former police officer, also made claims to lawmakers that the city was “defunding the police” and didn’t care about law enforcement, according to people in attendance.
Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, a Democrat representing Kansas City’s Northland, called Hall’s comments “very alarming,” specifically her opposition to local control.
The city is the only one in Missouri — and one of few nationally — that doesn’t control its police force. The department is run by a board appointed by Missouri’s governor.
“It’s very interesting to come to Jefferson City and have that position that, ‘Well the state legislature knows better than what we are doing locally’ when you are a locally elected official,” Nurrenbern said.
Kansas City officials have long fought legislative efforts to remove the residency requirement, saying it is important that officers live in the city to build trust with the areas they police.
Mayor Quinton Lucas spoke in favor of keeping the requirement earlier this year, arguing that letting officers to live outside the city would represent a “step back” in community-police relations.
“I’m disappointed that a trip to support legislative priorities for Kansas City’s Northland was used by some to undermine our community’s relationship with its police department,” Lucas said in a statement Wednesday.
Hall did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment.
The repeal of the city’s police residency requirement is included in Senate Bill 53, which would also prohibit officers from using chokeholds or having “sexual conduct” with someone they’ve detained or who is being held in jail. It would also help to improve background checks on officers and allow local prosecutors to ask a judge to throw out convictions in innocence cases.
The Senate passed the legislation Wednesday, and the House is expected to do the same and send the bill to the governor before the session ends Friday.
In Kansas City, sworn officers must reside in the city for one year before beginning employment. Civilian workers have nine months to move into the city.
Retaining that requirement, obtaining local control of its police department and fighting off efforts to undermine the earnings tax are among the highest priorities the City Council agreed to last year before the legislative session began in January. The resolution, passed by a 12-1 vote of the council guides the city’s lobbyists, who advocate for its positions in Jefferson City.
Hall was the lone vote against the resolution.
Because of Kansas City’s massive geographic size — spreading from downtown north of the Missouri River, east into Jackson County and south along the state line with Kansas — officers are not restricted to living in the urban areas of the city. Kansas City also sits in more than a dozen school districts.
City Councilman Eric Bunch said it was Hall’s prerogative to speak her mind on the police residency issue and said she had always been up front about her principles. But he noted the City Council as a whole has repeatedly stated its support for requiring Kansas City officers to reside within the city’s bounds.
“What I fear is that state legislators and the governor will hold up Councilwoman Hall’s testimony as a city council member — and by extension the City Council — agreeing with the legislation that would allow police officers to live outside the city limits,” he said.
Bunch said he was disappointed Hall characterized Kansas City’s budget cuts, which affected all departments, as defunding the police.
Ed Ford, a former member of the City Council and chair of the Northland Chamber, said Hall also spoke against the idea of only requiring Kansas City to renew its earnings tax — the 1% income tax that brings in City Hall’s largest, most flexible single stream of revenue — every 10 years instead of every five. Kansas City voters just overwhelmingly renewed the tax this spring.
Ford said Hall made the comments in a meeting with members of the General Assembly’s leadership.
He said she spoke of the “hypocrisy” she saw in Kansas City’s earnings tax renewal campaign urging voters to support the tax to help fund public safety.
“I think she basically said she would not be in favor of that based on the fact that the city campaigned on public safety and yet they’re cutting the police budget,” he said.
The Northland Chamber supports the earnings tax, which is projected to bring in more than $265 million in the city’s current fiscal year.
Hall has previously voiced public opposition to local control. At a rally organized by We Back Blue last summer, she urged attendees to show their support for officers and criticized her colleagues for forgiving citations handed out during protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“If we’ve shown you anything it’s that we are doing things politically driven,” Hall said, according to a story by The Kansas City Star about the rally. “We cannot afford to hand that over to our city and our mayor.”
Hall is in her second term on the City Council, meaning she can’t run again. She recently changed the name of her campaign committee from “Heather Hall for City Council” to “Hall for Missouri,” hinting that she may be considering a run for another office.
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